There is a short book, entitled The Elizabethan World Picture, which you would do well to read. It is by E. M. W. Tillyard, whose ‘container’ concept I quoted above and whose work you will no doubt be required to read in your Shakespeare or seventeenth-century literature classes, should you decide to pursue your English studies. Elizabeth I reigned primarily in the sixteenth century as I’m sure you know, but the Elizabethan Age extended well into the reign of James I, and is generally considered to be one of the greatest literary periods in English history. Although all the arts ― including painting, music and architecture ― flourished during this eventful period, the pre-eminent achievements were in literature.
The value of Tillyard to the study of Pym is the intellectual/religious/social setting in which this belletristic explosion took place, which is best summarised by the title of his book, and best qualified by the idea of microcosmus, a philosophy of a universal order, in which whatsoever is bound on earth is bound in heaven ― and the reverse. Or, in other words, whatever order exists cosmically and divinely, exists internally and morally and therefore, politically and socially. This macrocosm/microcosm doctrine was so intrinsic to the common assumptions of the day that, as Tillyard points out, few were moved to write about it.
Which puts me in mind of Isaac Asimov’s Robots of Dawn, in which Elijah Baley, a private investigator of the future, must travel to a planet named Aurora, many light years from earth. En route, he endeavours to learn about the culture of Aurora by viewing ‘book-films.’ However, after countless hours of studying these book-films on every conceivable aspect of history, climate, culture, law, etc. and having made copious notes, he arrives at his destination, only to find himself lacking in the most basic information. He is frustrated in his investigations and confounded in both his private habits and his social relations by such practical considerations as how to operate the toilet ― and the elaborate table etiquette of spicers, because it had not even occurred to the writers of informational book-films to address in their texts those things they held to be universal knowledge, based on universal assumptions.
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